From the very beginning of the 2014 campaign, Gov. Tom Corbett was fighting an uphill battle. His approval ratings were low, polls consistently showed him running far behind potential Democratic candidates, and the controversy over fracking and school funding were grabbing headlines on a weekly basis.
Corbett staked his first campaign on fiscal discipline and a no-tax pledge. He had a GOP-controlled Legislature but faltered on most of his major policy priorities.
“There are certain policy priorities that we would have liked to see established,” said Lowman Henry, head of the conservative Lincoln Institute. “Pension reform, liquor privatization, paycheck protection. Those however were not the fault of the Corbett administration. They got derailed in the state Senate.”
What Corbett did get passed or was able to slide into his budgets were not always well received by much of the electorate. Pollsters say Corbett could become the first Pennsylvania governor to lose re-election since second terms were legalized in 1968.
Leading up to the election Corbett has been traveling around the state handing out economic development grants in front of reporters and local politicians, and debates are his forte. The former state attorney general has been likened to a typical prosecutor, delivering his closing argument to a jury. Sometimes, that argument has been a mea culpa.
“Have I communicated the best? Probably not. But I’ve made the tough decisions,” Corbett said during a recent televised debate. “I was hired to change the culture of Harrisburg. That’s what it was — to change from a tax and spend, to a save the taxpayers their dollars and try to be efficient as you possibly can.”
The governor has been reluctant at times to trumpet the biggest legislative accomplishment of his term – 2.3 billion dollars to shore up the state’s transportation infrastructure. It uncapped a gas tax, thereby unleashing conservative fury. Corbett defends it, pointing to the thousands of structurally deficient bridges receiving much-needed repairs.
Democrats have wondered why schools didn’t warrant the same attention, and they’ve hammered the governor to acknowledge he cut a billion dollars from the education budget.
That is not completely true. Most of what was cut came from federal stimulus funding that expired as Corbett took office, and additional funding restored to education went toward rising pension payments the governor’s predecessors didn’t have to pay.
Cumberland County GOP Chairman Greg Rothman said no one expected Corbett to be hugely popular for trying to hold the line on spending.
“Governor Corbett’s like the eat your spinach, eat your vegetables governor,” Rothman said.
The latest polls show Corbett trailing his Democratic rival by double-digit percentages. The election will be held Tuesday Nov. 4.